Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/607

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SOME CHINESE MORTUARY CUSTOMS.

SOME CHINESE MORTUARY CUSTOMS.[1]
By ADELE M. FIELDE.

WHEN the Chinese wish to declare the extreme vexatiousness of any piece of work, they say, "It is more trouble than a funeral"; the obsequies of a parent being reckoned the most maddening affair in human experience.

Infants are buried summarily, without coffins, and the young are interred with few rites; but the funerals of the aged, of both sexes, are elaborate in proportion to the number of the descendants and to their wealth. When a childless married man dies, his widow may perform all the duties of a son toward him, may remain in his house, and may adopt children to rear as his heirs and as worshipers of the family manes. If his widow purposes marrying again, a young male relative may, with the consent of senior members of the clan, undertake the services expected from a son, and may inherit the estate of the deceased.

When one is about to die, he is removed from his couch to a bench or to a mat on the floor, because of a belief that he who dies in bed will carry the bedstead as a burden into the other world. He is washed in a new pot, in warm water in which a bundle of incense-sticks is merged. After the washing, the pot and the water are thrown away together. He is then arrayed in a full suit of new clothing, that he may appear in hades at his best. He breathes his last in the main room, before the largest door of the house, that the departing soul may easily find its way out into the air. A sheet of spirit-money, brown paper having a patch of gilding on one surface, is laid over the upturned face, because it is said that, if the eyes are left uncovered, the corpse may count the rows of tiles in the roof, and that in such case the family could never build a more spacious domicile.

The sons unbraid their queues, and by this dishevelment indicate the confusion of the household. They also take off their tunics, turn one half sidewise over the other half, and put them on again in such a way as to clothe only a moiety of the body. The left shoulder is made bare if it be the father, and the right shoulder if it be the mother, who has died. Thus the son shows that he is denuded of his usual protection, on the one hand or the other, the left ranking above the right in Chinese etiquette. If he be orphaned, he goes naked to the waist in any weather. He also girds himself with a wadded garment twisted into a rope. This cumbrous girdle expresses the fact that he has been obliged to

  1. The author writes from her own observations at Swatow, but does not mean to be understood as implying that all the customs described are general throughout the empire.—Editor.